MLB Playoffs 2011: Divisional Series Analysis and Predictions
After a night of wild finishes to games causing wilder finishes to the American League and National League Wild Card races, only eight teams remain in the hunt for a World Series title, all with an equal shot.
This year, while the Philadelphia Phillies seem to be the favorite to win the Fall Classic, all eight teams have a legitimate shot. The playoffs set up for some interesting match-ups throughout, and fans are in store for what should be an unforgettable October.
On the NL side, the Divisional Series sets up for the Phillies to host the St. Louis Cardinals, while the Arizona Diamondbacks to travel to Milwaukee to start a series with the Brewers.
The AL has some great series to open the playoffs as well. The Tampa Bay Rays will start their improbable playoff appearance in Texas, and the Yankees will play host to the Detroit Tigers.
ALDS: Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees
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Game 1: Verlander vs. Sabathia, Friday Sept. 30, 8:37 ET
Game 2: Fister vs. Nova, Saturday Oct. 1, 8:37 ET
Game 3: Garcia vs. Scherzer, Monday Oct. 3, 8:37 ET
Game 4: Sabathia vs. Porcello, Tuesday Oct. 4, Time TBD*
Game 5: Verlander vs. Nova, Thursday Oct. 6, Time TBD*
On the last day of September, the playoffs will begin, opening with the premier series of the first round. The New York Yankees, winners of the AL East and boasting a record of 97-65, hold home-field advantage over a Detroit Tigers team that ran away with the AL Central and features the likely AL Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander along with a perennial MVP candidate by the name of Miguel Cabrera.
As in most series, the opening game will set the tone for the rest of the series.
Justin Verlander will go head-to-head with CC Sabathia in front of what is sure to be a sellout at Yankee Stadium. Verlander has had a much better season than Sabathia, but pitching on the road against one of the best lineups top-to-bottom in the American League will make this game very interesting.
However, the Tigers have found ways to score runs all season, usually because of middle of the order bats Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are all extremely talented, but all year Verlander has navigated his way through astounding lineups and worked out of incredible jams, and he will be able to do so again, leading the Tigers to a narrow victory in a low scoring game.
Game 2 of the series holds another great pitching match-up. Doug Fister has been lights out for the Tigers since joining the squad, posting a 1.79 ERA with a .840 WHIP to be the clearly defined second starter the Tigers needed badly. Making his first career playoff start will be Ivan Nova, who has earned his way to the Yankees second starter in the playoffs with a 16-win season and a 3.70 ERA.
Doug Fister will struggle, however, as the Yankees lineup will be the first playoff lineup he has pitched against since August 25 against Tampa Bay. Nova will take care of business the way he has all season, and the Yankees will win the game to even the series at 1-1.
The third game features Max Scherzer in his first career playoff appearance in front of the home crowd in Detroit attempting to out-duel Freddy Garcia. All season, Scherzer has been up and down; but September was one of his better months, and pitching in front of the home crowd should be a big boost to the young pitcher, whose ERA at home is 1.43 points better than it is on the road. On the other hand, Garcia has been better on the road than at home this season, posting a 3.27 ERA outside of New York.
The Tiger offense will be productive in front of their home crowd, and the bullpen will put the game away with Al Alburquerque and Jose Valverde dominating the late innings. After the Monday night game, the Tigers will hold a 2-1 lead.
The fourth game will be an interesting one. Yankees Manager Joe Girardi has already said he is prepared to throw CC Sabathia twice in the series, and he will be on the mound on Tuesday night against Rick Porcello. Porcello will struggle early, but the Tigers will be able to recover and their bullpen will again be lights out.
Powered by Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers will send the Yankees home early and advance to their first ALCS since 2006.
Series Final: 3-1 Tigers
ALDS: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Texas Rangers
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Game 1: Neimann vs. Wilson, Friday Sept. 30, 5:07 ET
Game 2: Shields vs. Holland, Saturday Oct. 1, 7:07 ET
Game 3: TBA vs. TBA, Monday Oct. 3, 5:07
Game 4: TBA vs. TBA, Tuesday Oct. 4, TBD*
Game 5: TBA vs. TBA, Thursday Oct. 6, TBD*
The second ALDS matchup features the Tampa Bay Rays, who clinched the AL Wild Card in a wild 12-inning comeback win over the Yankees on the last day of the season, against the offensive juggernaut that is the Texas Rangers. The Rangers punched their ticket to the postseason by winning the AL West, logging a 96-66 record in the process.
In Game 1, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and the Tampa Bay Rays will travel to Texas for the first two games of a series with a Rangers club that finished third in baseball in runs scored behind Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz.
Because David Price, the ace of the Tampa Bay rotation, was forced to throw in Game 162 to get the Rays into the playoffs, Jeff Neimann will get the ball to open the series. Neimann has pitched decently for the most part this season, but against the Rangers he was terrible, posting an ERA over 11.00 and allowing 12 earned runs over 9.2 innings. In his lone start in Texas, he allowed five runs in five innings pitched. This all spells trouble for a Rays team trying to continue their hot streak.
C.J. Wilson is a very good pitcher who should pitch well enough for the Rangers to easily win this game and take a 1-0 series lead.
Game 2 should be quite a different story. Joe Maddon will give the ball to James Shields, who has had by far the best season of his career. Better yet, Shields has been lights out in two starts against Texas this season, throwing a complete game while allowing only one run in Tampa Bay and throwing eight shutout innings playing at the hitter-friendly Ballpark in Arlington.
Derek Holland will take the mound for the Rangers after posting an ERA of 3.95 during the regular season. However, he struggled at home this season, with his ERA rising to above the 4.50 mark and has been even worse against the Rays.
On paper, this looks about as lopsided as playoff games come.
The Rangers should make this game close, but this one looks like it's Tampa's to lose. With a team as hot as the Rays are right now, do not expect them to falter. When the series shifts to Tampa Bay, the series will be knotted at 1-1.
Because neither team has announced pitchers for the next three games, it is very difficult to analyze them. However, it is fair to assume that Price will take the hill in Game 3 in Tampa Bay, and nobody on the Texas staff has the ability to match up with what he brings to the table.
Colby Lewis will likely take the mound in the third game of the series, but he simply will not match up to Price, and the Rays will win Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Again guessing at the pitchers for Game 4, it could easily be a duel between two promising rookies, Jeremy Hellickson for the Rays and Alexi Ogando for the Rangers. This would be an interesting matchup because it takes the inexperience factor out of the equation.
However, the Ranger offense should be too much for Tampa Bay to handle, and the leadership and experience that Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre provide should keep the Rangers alive in the hunt for their second trip to the World Series in two years.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, they only keep their quest alive for two more days. In Game 5, the Rays will likely throw James Shields again, and the Rangers will throw C.J. Wilson. The Rangers will keep fighting until the end, but the Rays will get the win on the road to move on to their second ALCS in franchise history.
Series Final: 3-2 Rays
NLDS: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Phillies
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Game 1: Lohse vs. Halladay, Saturday Oct. 1, 5:07 ET
Game 2: Jackson vs. Lee, Sunday Oct. 2, 8:07 ET
Game 3: Hamels vs. Carpenter, Tuesday Oct. 4, TBD
Game 4: TBA vs. Garcia, Wednesday Oct. 5, TBD*
Game 5: TBA vs. TBA, Friday Oct. 7, TBD*
At first glance, the Phillies and Cardinals would not appear to be a competitive series.
The Cardinals limped into the playoffs, taking advantage of the Atlanta Braves falling apart by winning two out of three games over the worst team in baseball, the Houston Astros. The Phillies, on the other hand, finished with the best record in baseball, closing with a record of 102-60.
However, the Cardinals are one of only three teams with a winning record over the Phillies, winning six of the nine games between the two teams this season.
While there is no way Roy Halladay can have a start that compares to the no-hitter he threw to open the playoffs last season, he will still dominate like he always does.
Kyle Lohse has been very good this season, posting a career best 3.39 ERA ,and has been better against the Phillies, with a 1.76 ERA in two starts and did not give up a single run in his start in Philadelphia. Lohse out-dueled Halladay already this season, helping fuel the Cardinals to a 4-3 win in part of their September playoff push.
However, Halladay is fantastic at home and even better in the postseason. This will be a close game, there is no doubt, but the Phillies will take the series lead in front of their home crowd to start off their push for a World Series appearance.
The second game features another interesting matchup, with Edwin Jackson going head-to-head with Cliff Lee.
Lee is no stranger to the playoffs; this is his third consecutive appearance. To be good in the playoffs, pitchers have to keep runners off base, and Lee is one of the best in baseball at that, walking only 42 hitters in 232.2 innings in the regular season. On top of that, Cliff Lee is consistent.
Edwin Jackson is inconsistent and walks a lot of hitters. If Jackson has one of his better games, the Cardinals stand a chance in this one, but if he starts walking hitters, he could find himself in serious trouble against a Phillies offense that has power throughout with Ryan Howard being the main source. If Jackson is not careful, he could wind up getting himself creamed and watching the Phillies take a 2-0 lead into St. Louis.
Game 3 in St. Louis is the Cardinals' to lose. They have their ace on the mound and play at home. They need to win to keep the series going.
Cole Hamels is an extremely talented pitcher and has had a fantastic season, but Chris Carpenter is just a bit better and will find a way to keep his team alive as he has throughout his career.
Jaime Garcia will be on the mound for Game 4, and his competitor has not yet been announced by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. However, there is a good chance that Halladay will be on the hill, and if that is the case, the Phillies will end the series. Manuel could also decide to throw Vance Worley, who has been fantastic in his rookie campaign, posting a 3.01 ERA. If he throws Worley, the Cardinals would have a good shot.
Garcia has been fantastic at Busch Stadium this season, however, and the Cardinals will win that game and head back to Philadelphia for Game 5.
The Cardinals have been fantastic this season without Adam Wainwright, but it hurts in Game 5 when they cannot throw Chris Carpenter. Manuel has no choice but to throw Halladay, and the Cardinals will be forced to throw either Lohse or Jackson, neither of whom would have enough to propel St. Louis to a win, and the Phillies, as everyone expected, qualify for the NLCS.
Series Final: 3-2 Phillies
NLDS: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers
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Game 1: Kennedy vs. Gallardo, Saturday Oct. 1, 2:07 ET
Game 2: Hudson vs. Marcum, Sunday Oct. 2, 4:37 ET
Game 3: Greinke vs. TBA, Tuesday Oct. 4, TBD
Game 4: TBA vs. TBA, Wednesday Oct. 5, TBD*
Game 5: TBA vs. TBA, Friday Oct. 7, TBD*
Just by making it to this point, the Diamondbacks have made one of the greatest turnarounds in recent memory, finishing as one of the worst teams in baseball last season to win 94 games and the NL West crown this season.
The Brewers have been fantastic this year as well. At the beginning of the year the front office acknowledged that this would likely be their last season to compete for a World Series, with Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks likely coming off the books at the end of the season. After the additions of Zack Greinke and Nyjer Morgan, it was clear that they were putting all their eggs in the 2011 basket. It clearly worked, winning the NL Central title and 96 games to boot.
In Game 1 of the Divisional Series, breakout star Ian Kennedy takes the mound for Arizona in their first playoff game since 2007, while Yovani Gallardo takes the hill for the first Milwaukee playoff game in three years.
Gallardo has been fantastic at home, helping Milwaukee to a Major League-leading 57 wins at home. Kennedy has been great all season, boasting a 2.88 ERA and winning a monster 21 games. He has faced the Brewers once this season and threw seven shutout innings, but it was at home.
This Milwaukee squad is nearly unbeatable at home, and they are not going to be beaten there to open the playoffs. The Brewers win the first game of the series to take a 1-0 series lead.
The second game will feature Shaun Marcum against Daniel Hudson. Hudson is another good young player who is part of what will make the Diamondbacks a good team in the future.
However, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun will be too much for him, not to mention Weeks and Cory Hart. This Brewer lineup is scary good and will fuel them to another win, pushing the Diamondbacks to the brink of elimination.
The third game will be the end of it.
The Diamondbacks will have to pick between Josh Collmenter, yet another young gun, or Joe Saunders. However, neither of them will be able to contain the Brewers offense or matchup against Zack Greinke, who is very likely the best pitcher out of the Brewers' three stars.
In the end, it will be Milwaukee with the sweep, giving their pitching staff time to rest up in preparation for the NLCS.
Series Final: 3-0 Brewers